18 May 2022
During the seasons of Lent this year, in my daily reflections in my prayer diary each morning, I have been drawing on the psalms and on the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).
USPG has announced this week that USPG’s annual conference is to resume this year, between 25 and 27 July.
The announcement from USPG in recent days hopes that ‘as we gather again to celebrate and be inspired by the amazing mission activities of partner churches around the [Anglican] Communion’ , this can be an opportunity to ‘discover USPG’s unique contribution.’
The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’ Once again, the conference is taking place at the High Leigh Conference Centre outside Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this year.
‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ was the theme of USPG’s five-session Lenten Study course this year, exploring contextual theology.
I introduced the fourth study, ‘Celtic Spirituality,’ drawing on my experience at the time as Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale Group of Parishes, and Director for Education and Training in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe.
I also contributed ‘Reflections on Celtic Spirituality’ as part of an international webinar organised by USPG as Study 4 in the Lent 2022 programme, Living Stones Living Hope, 24 March 2022, and spoke at the webinar from my hospital bed in Milton Keynes where I was being treated for a stroke.
This year’s conference begins in High Leigh at 3 p.m. on Monday 25 July 2022, and continues until 3 p.m. on Wednesday 27 July 2022.
The speakers at this year’s conference include:
• The Right Rt Revd Reuben Mark, Deputy Moderator of the Church of South India
• The Revd Suchitra Behera, Deacon in the Diocese of Barisal, Church of Bangladesh, and an international development practitioner
• Ms Basetsana Makena, Provincial Youth Representative, Anglican Church of Southern Africa
• Clifton Nedd, Caribbean Facilitator for the Anglican Alliance
The USPG conference takes place immediately before this year’s Lambeth Conference, which takes place at the University of Kent, Canterbury Cathedral and Lambeth Palace from 26 July to 8 August.
I had planned to be in High Leigh to take part in last year’s USPG conference (19-21 July 2021), with the theme ‘Such a Time as This.’ But the Covid-19 pandemic meant the conference became a virtual event. My six-year term as a trustee of USPG concluded at a virtual meeting (20 July 2021) of the trustees of USPG during that conference.
The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire, was the planned venue for the USPG’s conference in 2020 until Covid-19 forced its cancellation too. So it is 2019 since I was at a USPG conference, when High Leigh was also the venue.
I have taken part in many USPG conferences in High Leigh in the past (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019), sometimes leading workshops, taking part in council and trustee meetings, and I presided at the Eucharist at the end of the 2012 conference. At those conferences I have also formed lasting friendships. I was also the chaplain in 2006 at a joint conference in High Leigh of the Friends of the Church in China and the China Desk of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), when I led daily worship and celebrated the Sunday Eucharist.
Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.
In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:
1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;
2, reading the psalm or psalms;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Psalm 84 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 83. In Latin, the psalm is known as Quam dilecta.
Psalm 84 begins a group of psalms at the end of Book III within the 150 psalms, from this psalm to Psalm 89. These psalms attempt to provide hope to the exilic Israelite community. But, despite their celebration of the historic traditions of the Jewish people, they remind the reader that these elements no longer provide the hope they once did. Within this group, Psalm 84 ties the presence of the divine to the temple.
Four psalms of this group – Psalms 84, 85, 87 and 88 – are attributed to the Korahites, who are described as the doorkeepers of the tabernacle in the Book of Chronicles.
The psalm could have been written before or after the exile in Babylon (6th century BCE). It is attributed to the sons of Korah.
Psalm 84 is a hymn psalm, more specifically a pilgrimage psalm, a song praising Zion as the longed-for goal of the pilgrim. God dwells in the Temple, perhaps signifying that God dwells among the people (verses 1-2).
To live in the ‘courts of the Lord’ is a blessing and a joy to the heart. Those who live there have security and happiness. ‘Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow has a nest for herself’ there (verse 3).
Making a pilgrimage to the Temple offers hope to the pilgrims. When these pilgrims pass through the valley of Baca on their way to the Temple, there joy is so great that even this desolate place feels refreshing (verse 6), and they receive new strength on the way (verse 7).
The psalmist then prays for God’s anointed one, the king or the Messiah, but later understood as a reference to the ideal future king who would restore the nation (verse 9).
The psalmist rejoices in well-known words that ‘a day’ in God’s ‘courts is better that a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wickedness’ (verse 10).
God is both a ‘sun and shield,’ for he illuminates and protects, and bestows blessings. Everyone who trusts in God is happy (verses 11-12).
So, where God dwells, the many, even the most insignificant of creatures, should find sanctuary, should find a home.
The psalm is often seen as an inscription on synagogues and churches and sung for dedication ceremonies of buildings and their anniversaries.
Thomas More wrote annotations in his Psalter for Psalm 84 while awaiting execution in the Tower of London, expressing his desire to be able to take part in Christian worship again.
Psalm 84 has often been set to music. Bach quotes from Psalm 84: 11 in his cantata Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild BWV 79, written for Reformation Day 1725; Johannes Brahms included it in his Ein deutsches Requiem; and it has been paraphrased in many hymns, including ‘Pleasant are thy courts above’ by Henry Francis Lyte.
Psalm 84 (NRSVA):
To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise.
5 Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed.
10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.
The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’
The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (18 May 2022) invites us to pray:
Let us pray for the Anglican Diocese of Brasília and their new Department of Advocacy and Human Rights.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org